CITY HALL — The City Council declared July 2011 Recreation & Parks month, and simultaneously bid farewell to the Recreation & Parks Commission’s longest-serving member and chair, Neil Carrey.
Carrey, who served 12.5 years on the commission, has overseen the creation and expansion of several parks, the most recent of which is the 7-acre Palisades Garden Walk currently winding its way through the public process.
He advocated for playing fields for children and adults, and not only helped to ensure that parks and open space flourished in Santa Monica, but helped secure room for them to grow in the future.
Phil Brock joined the Recreation & Parks Commission in 2003, four years after Carrey was first appointed.
It wasn’t the first time the pair had worked together.
“Neil and I have had a very long relationship,” Brock said. “Before we were on the Recreation & Parks Commission, he was the chair of the Physical Education Advisory Committee for the school district. We became acquainted because I was also a member of that committee.”
Carrey chaired the advisory committee and was later appointed to the Recreation & Parks Commission. Brock followed suit, first chairing the school district committee and later joining the commission.
“I’ve already told Neil that wherever he ends up, I’ll go next,” Brock joked.
The Recreation & Parks Commission strives to attain a balance between its two charges of creating play spaces for community members to stay active and healthy, and attractive open spaces for more leisurely pursuits.
In a commendation given to Carrey July 12, Mayor Richard Bloom called the parks places to foster human development and strengthen a sense of community as well as enjoy the “serenity and inspiration of nature.”
While Carrey embraced open space, he bore the standard of recreation areas both before he joined the commission and throughout his terms.
Through his five children, Carrey was heavily involved in youth sports. He coached for 15 years, and served on the Little League and softball boards, as well as chairing the Physical Education Advisory Committee for the school district for five years.
Joining the commission gave him an opportunity to create and maintain sports fields in a more direct way, Carrey said.
As a result, Carrey was involved in the Playground Partnership, which opened up elementary school fields to the general public, and the Civic Center Joint Use Project, which will do the same for high school fields.
During his tenure, the Airport Park took shape, which placed soccer fields right next to the airport and the Santa Monica College Bundy Campus. City Hall also installed a skate park in Memorial Park, and secured extra space — the old Fisher Lumber site — that could later be developed into an expansion of the park’s facilities.
Carrey also lists the 15,000 square foot Euclid “pocket park” and Annenberg Community Beach House amongst the commission’s accomplishments during his tenure.
In general, commissioners’ may serve two, four-year terms, with the potential to get a third term tacked on by a council vote.
Carrey exceeded even that.
He was originally appointed in 1999, putting him a few months above the 12-year mark, and his term continues on until someone is officially appointed to replace him.
They will be hard shoes to fill, Brock said.
“I will especially miss his wisdom, humor and his tenacity on the Recreation & Parks Commission,” Brock said. “I can’t emphasize how well he has served our citizens.”
Carrey does have some concerns about the attitudes of the remaining commissioners, and hopes that they will keep up the recreation side of the commission’s charge.
“They have good ideas, but it’s too early. We have a lot of new commissioners that do too many things and spread themselves too thin,” Carrey said. “Playing fields will have a voice, but I think we may have lost the stronger voices.”
For himself, leaving the commission will free up some time, but Carrey isn’t concerned about getting bored.
He plans to continue his advocacy for sports fields from outside of the commission, noting that he had checked the obituaries, and he’s not there yet.
“People ask me, ‘What are you going to do next?’ I have some bullet points. I don’t work full-time, but I still work. I play tennis three days a week, and I’m a chair and co-chair with the school district. I work on six non-profit boards.
“I’m not going to run out of things to do,” Carrey said.